The War Inevitable, March, 1775

Patrick Henry

‘The War Inevitable, March, 1775’ by Patrick Henry is a war-time speech delivered in March of 1775 about the growing need for war against the British.

Cite

Patrick Henry

Nationality: American

Patrick Henry was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

He served as Virginia's first governor after independence from British rule.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: War is inevitable

Themes: Dreams, Identity, War

Speaker: Patrick Henry

Emotions Evoked: Anger, Confidence, Freedom

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 18th Century

This is a historically important speech that was delivered in 1775 and helped turn the tide toward the eventual American Revolution.

The speech contains the incredibly famous lines, “Give me liberty or give me death!” The speech was instrumental in doing the American Revolution and is credited with helping tip the balance towards war against the British. 

The War Inevitable, March, 1775
Patrick Henry

They tell us, Sir, that we are weak -- unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of People, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Beside, Sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of Nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, Sir, is not to the strong alone. It is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, Sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable. and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come! It is in vain, Sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace! -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our breathren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that Gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery! Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!


Summary

The War Inevitable, March, 1775’ by Patrick Henry is calls for resistance against British oppression, insisting that war is not just unavoidable but already occurring.

Henry expresses a firm belief in the power of three million people fighting for liberty, proclaiming them invincible against any force the enemy can muster. He posits that they will not fight alone, as a just God will raise allies for their cause. Moreover, he emphasizes that victory lies not just with the physically strong but also with the vigilant, the active, and the brave. 

He also categorically rejects the option of submission and slavery as a means to avoid conflict and boldly welcomes the inevitable war, calling out those who continue to hope for peace. Lastly, Henry passionately declares his preference for liberty or death over a life in chains, urging others to make a similar choice.

Structure and Form 

The War Inevitable, March, 1775’ by Patrick Henry is a short, powerful speech that does not follow a specific pattern of any kind. However, it does contain a few notable sections. 

There is an introduction in which he refutes the perceived weakness of the colonies, an assertion that divine providence will provide them with allies in their fight, and then a call to arms. The speech ends with a personal resolution, in which Henry criticizes those who naively wish for peace, arguing that they are denying the reality of the situation. He concludes by passionately declaring his own position – a choice between liberty or death – urging his audience to make a similar stand.

Literary Devices 

In this speech, the writer used a few different literary devices. For example: 

  • Rhetorical Questions: Henry uses rhetorical questions to challenge the audience’s preconceptions and to stir their emotions. For example, when he asks, “When shall we be stronger?” he prompts his listeners to consider whether waiting will truly enhance their position.
  • Parallelism: Henry’s speech is also full of parallel structures, which provide balance and rhythm. The closing line, “Give me liberty or give me death!” is a clear example of this.
  • Repetition: Repetition is used for emphasis and emotional impact, as in the phrase, “The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come!”
  • Hyperbole: the speaker uses extreme exaggeration for emphasis in this speech, as in the depiction of the colonists’ current situation, where he talks about the clanking of chains being heard on the plains of Boston.


Detailed Analysis 

Part I

They tell us, Sir, that we are weak — unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? 

In the first part of his speech, Henry employs a series of rhetorical questions that invite the audience to reflect on their perceived weakness and to question the wisdom of delaying resistance against the British. 

For example, he asks “When shall we be stronger?” he asks, challenging the notion that inaction will lead to strength. These questions expose the absurdity of waiting for an ideal moment to resist.

Henry also uses irony in order to inspire strength and suggest that inaction is the same as surrender. In the next part of the speech, paints a stark picture of the colonists “lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope”, until they are entirely incapacitated by the enemy. This striking image underscores the severity of their predicament and emphasizes how important it is that they do something about their situation quickly.

Part II 

Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of People, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Beside, Sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of Nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, Sir, is not to the strong alone. It is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, Sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! 

In the next lines of this important speech, Henry notes that the colonists are incredibly strong and could if they really wanted to, overtake the British. The first sentence serves as a direct counter-argument to the previous claim of their weakness. Henry contends that they are not weak if they utilize the resources given to them by “the God of nature.”

He uses faith and the idea of divine providence to establish the morality of their struggle. God is on their side, he contends. He goes on, saying that it’s a “just God who presides over the destinies of Nations” and that their God is, therefore, on their side. 

He shifts again in these lines, saying that victory belongs not only to the physically strong but to “the vigilant, the active, the brave,” broadening the spectrum of who can contribute to their fight.

He also adds in this section that the colonists don’t really have a choice when it comes to whether or not they’re going to fight. The only other option is to submit and he knows they don’t want to do that. 

Part III 

Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable. and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come! It is in vain, Sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace! — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our breathren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that Gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery! Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

The idea of submission is continued in the final section of the poem. He knows that it would be easy for them to give up and give into the “chains” that have already been forged for them. They can even be heard, he suggests hyperbolically, “on the plains of Boston!” 

Henry then firmly asserts the inevitability of war, repeating “let it come” for emphasis. He dismisses any attempt to downplay the severity of the situation, highlighting the futility of calls for peace when war has, in his view, already begun. This assertion further dismisses the idea of waiting for a more opportune moment to resist, firmly stating that the time to act is now.

He uses a few more rhetorical questions in this part of the speech, saying that there is no reason for them to stand around idle and that the time for stalling is over. 

The speech ends with the very iconic statement, “Give me liberty or give me death!” It serves as a powerful ultimatum and exemplifies his commitment to the cause.

FAQs 

What is the theme of this speech

The theme is freedom vs. oppression. Henry knows that now is the time for action. The speech is infused with the theme of the urgent need for resistance against oppression, the inevitability of conflict, and the moral righteousness of the struggle for freedom.

Why is this speech important? 

The speech is incredibly historically important. It played a pivotal role in swinging the balance of opinion in Virginia towards supporting independence from Great Britain. It was delivered at the Virginia Convention in March 1775.

What does “Give me liberty or give me death” mean? 

This phrase asserts Henry’s strong preference for freedom over life under oppressive rule (the rule of the British). It means that he values liberty so highly that he would rather die than live without it.

Who was Patrick Henry? 

Patrick Henry was a lawyer, planter, and influential figure in American politics during the Revolutionary period. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and served as the first and sixth post-colonial Governor of Virginia.


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this speech might also want to read these related literary works. For example: 

Poetry+ Review Corner

The War Inevitable, March, 1775

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Poet:
Patrick Henry (poems)
100
Period:
Nationality:
Themes:
55
Emotions:
Form:

Patrick Henry

100
Patrick Henry was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a renowned orator known for his passionate speeches advocating for independence. His staunch defense of freedom and his role in the revolutionary struggle provides the background for his famous speech, 'The War Inevitable.'
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18th Century

65
The 18th century, particularly the latter part, was a period of political upheaval and revolutionary sentiment in America. Henry's speech, delivered in 1775, was a product of this historical context. It represented the colonists' growing discontent with British rule and their increasing desire for independence.
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American

54
Henry's speech is an important example of American revolutionary writing. It reflects the period's political thought, its commitment to freedom, and its rhetorical style, making it a crucial part of the American literary canon.
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Dreams

17
The theme of dreams is implicit in Henry's vision of liberty and self-governance. His speech appealed to the colonists' aspirations for a free and independent nation. He shares his dream for the colonies with clarity and determination.
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Identity

32
The speech is filled with a strong sense of collective identity as it appeals to the colonists' shared desire for freedom and self-determination. Henry's invocation of common values and experiences serves to unite his listeners in their collective struggle against British rule.
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War

55
War is a central theme of Henry's speech. He argues for the inevitability of armed conflict against the British and calls on his listeners to prepare for this impending struggle. The theme of war serves to highlight the severity of the situation and the urgency of action.
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Anger

23
Henry's speech is underscored by a palpable anger against the colonists' oppression under British rule. This anger is directed toward the unjust circumstances imposed by the British and is used to rally his listeners toward resistance.
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Confidence

37
Henry displays strong confidence throughout his speech. This is evident in his unwavering conviction in the righteousness of their cause, his firm belief in their capacity to resist, and his resolute declaration of choosing liberty over life.
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Freedom

62
The concept of freedom is at the heart of Henry's speech. His rallying cry, "Give me liberty, or give me death," emphasizes the importance of freedom and the lengths to which he and others are willing to go to achieve it.
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Change

46
The concept of change is inherent and significant. The change that Henry advocates for is not gradual or peaceful but rather immediate, profound, and achieved through conflict. He is proposing a radical shift from a state of oppression under British rule to one of liberty and self-governance.
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Conflict

43
The speech revolves around the conflict between the American colonists and the British Empire. Henry presents this conflict as a struggle for liberty against oppression, framing it in moral terms.
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History

59
This speech holds a significant place in American history. It not only marked a turning point in the American Revolution but also encapsulated the sentiments of liberty and resistance that defined this period.
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Oppression

56
The theme of oppression is prevalent in Henry's portrayal of the colonists' situation under British rule. He uses the metaphor of forged chains to signify their condition, emphasizing the urgency to break free from this oppression.
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Free Verse

14
Although Henry's speech is not a poem and thus doesn't strictly adhere to the conventions of free verse, it does share the form's emphasis on rhythmic patterns and individualistic expression. The speech's rhythm and its emotive, personal language mirror the cadences and directness often found in free verse.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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